Climate change impacts peatland CO2 gas exchange primarily via moisture conditions

Northern peatlands store approximately one third of global soil carbon, namely around 500 gigatons. Because the peatland carbon cycling is largely controlled by partly anaerobic soil conditions, the carbon stored in these soils is extremely vulnerable to climate warming that is expected to reduce soil moisture and therefore increase soil aeration. Understanding the interactions between warming and soil moisture is particularly important in peatland types found in boreal and arctic areas expected to experience high rates of climate warming. This region happens to be the core area for northern peatlands and therefore increased mineralization could have high potential to further accelerate climate change. 

A new study led by researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and Natural Resources Institute Finland suggests that peatland CO2 exchange is more strongly influenced by drying than warming as such, and that soil moisture may be critical to determining whether fen ecosystems are able to adapt to a changing climate. The study was recently published in Global Change Biology – a leading journal in environmental science.

The research is based on a four-year field experiment in two Finnish fens subjected to warming and water level drawdown. The authors monitored photosynthesis, respiration, and net CO2 exchange during third and fourth experimental growing seasons. While warming had little effect on any gas flux component, dryer conditions were associated with increased photosynthesis and respiration, and warming intensified the impacts of drying so that in one site CO2 uptake decreased. Based on these results, in northern fens the water table has a decisive role in regulating how much the increased temperature impacts the CO2 exchange.

The research was funded by the Academy of Finland (projects 138041, 287039, 140863).

For further information please contact:

Dr Anna Laine, tel. +358400826419, anna.laine-petajakangas@uef.fi

Dr Eeva-Stiina Tuittila tel. +358294453535, eeva-stiina.tuittila@uef.fi

Research article:

Laine, A. M., Mäkiranta, P., Laiho, R., Mehtätalo, L., Penttilä, T., Korrensalo, A., Minkkinen, K., Fritze, H. & Tuittila, E. S. (2019). Warming impacts on boreal fen CO2 exchange under wet and dry conditions. Global change biology. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14617

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The University of Eastern Finland, UEF, is one of the largest universities in Finland. The activities of the UEF underscore multidisciplinarity, and the university is especially strong in research related to forests and the environment, health and well-being, and new technologies and materials. The UEF offers teaching in more than 100 major subjects. In addition to the high standard of teaching, the university offers its students a modern study environment, which is under constant development. The university comprises four faculties: the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The university’s campuses are located in the heart of beautiful eastern Finland in Joensuu, Kuopio and Savonlinna. The UEF is home to approximately 15 000 students and nearly 2 800 members of staff.

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